I think I was 32 before I thought of myself as smart. Its a strange and dubious thing to try and gauge your own intelligence. Everyone knows that there are different manifestations of our brain power. and they are all needed to make the world go round.
I realized at 32 I was smart because I hurt my back so bad that I couldn’t train for a year, and thus had no physical anything to self identify with. I had the time to examine who I was separate from my body and it was a healing process. I think it surprised me because my life is devoid of many of the external markers of intelligence. I never qualified for the gifted and talented program as a kid, my SAT score was shit, and I never really went to college.
My whole life, I attributed any success I had to the rare levels of compulsive learning I can force myself into when under great stress. I was the opposite of a natural learning to speak Danish, but the difference between me and other students was I would do craaaazy shit. One time, I got so mad at encountering verbs in Danish that I didn’t recognize that I made note cards of every verb in the language and their 10 tenses. Pyscho.
I figured because I could do things like that, I wasn’t necessarily smart but I could get by, like the white guy on a basket ball team who never misses a free throw.
If I had to quantify myself I would say I’m gifted at getting to the 80% level of things. When I learn things, I don’t dabble. I have to reach an objective and recognizable level of skill that is way above average but not yet a master.
I think this point is such a natural goal to get to because its no fun to suck at things. But also, at the 80% level, you know whether the rest of something is worth your time. Also, the last 20% may take the rest of your life to acquire.
In my 20’s, I fell in love with the harmonica. I was a huge Blues Traveler nerd when i was teenager, and John Popper meant a lot to me. Then one day it occurred to me that I could also learn it. I got really into a modern harmonica player named Jason Ricci. I started playing harmonica all the god damn time. I would stay up late listening to early pre-war harp masters and picking things up by ear. Pretty sure I annoyed the shit out of a lot of people with it. I went from no knowledge to self teaching my way to being able to play in any blues band and not look out of place.
Then at some point, I looked around and realized I had gotten good, but that the only people who bought harmonica albums were other harmonica players and I started to play way less.
In my heart, I have always wanted to find things that look just as good at 80% as they do at the beginning. A few of those have stayed with me. Jiu Jitsu, stand up comedy is currently one, etc..
As I write this, I wonder if the other side of this is some kind of defense mechanism. If you don’t get to 100%, then you can’t waste your life. As someone who has dedicated himself to mirages before, thats probably some kind of fear of mine. I’m always looking for people, places and things that don’t wear out.